The Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Storage Apps for Business
The number of cloud services that provide file storage and syncing is exploding beyond well-known offerings such as Dropbox and Google Drive, making the choice of a backup data provider more complicated.
The basic functions of online storage are pretty straightforward: Apps usually offer a set amount of information you can store, plus some ability to sync files to your computer, along with other features. But there are surprisingly subtle and not-so subtle differentiators between the cloud service providers.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages of several cloud apps you may be less familiar with, as well as suggestions for who might consider using them.
SkyDrive has been recently upgraded as part Microsoft's cloud storage push. It offers richer features than its most obvious counterpart, Google Drive, including built-in social media sharing and better photo sharing.
Advantages: SkyDrive provides relatively seamless integration with Microsoft Office software and Office Web apps. Users can edit documents in Word and pick up where they left off in the online app. Users can also remotely access files stored on their PC from anywhere using a feature on SkyDrive called "Fetch." And social media integration lets users tweet or post Facebook content directly from SkyDrive.
Disadvantages: While Microsoft Word is considerably better than Google's document app in terms of features, SkyDrive's cloud-based functions are nowhere close to Google as a collaboration engine. Also, unless users invest in the full suite of Microsoft server products, SkyDrive tends, like Google Drive, to lack sophisticated admin tools, such as document permissions and password-protected files.
Price: SkyDrive offers the largest amount of free storage, with 7GB. Paid plans start at $10 per year for 20GB and go up to $50 per year for 100GB.
Who should use it: It can be a logical online supplement for startups that use Microsoft Office programs.
Los Altos, Calif.-based Box offers a customizable and scalable online syncing tool that includes useful admin and security features.
Advantages: Advanced admin features, such as statistics and tracking, let managers see exactly what team members are doing with company content. Advanced security features include password-protected sharing and specific, role-based access to documents, such as the ability to add read-only users.
Disadvantages: While Box is a well-rounded storage solution, it syncs to only one specific file on the user's computer, a catchall folder for the user's Box files. So, it requires some group planning and practice to use properly.
Price: Box has a free version that offers basic sharing features for one user and up to 5 GB of storage. Business plans start at $15 per month per user for 1,000 GB of storage.
Who should use it: Businesses that require a more advanced, customizable file storage tool than Google Drive or SkyDrive should consider Box.
The major strength of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Syncplicity is its flexibility. The service aims to integrate with business apps such as Salesforce, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Apps and Google Docs, as well as files on your computer.
Advantages: Instead of having to dump duplicates of files into Google Drive or SkyDrive, Syncplicity can synchronize any folder on the user's computer, which can be used to back up important files. A news stream shows recent changes to all documents.
Disadvantages: Syncplicity limits the number of computers that can be synced, depending on the account. Mobile editing can be cumbersome and must be done through a separate smartphone or tablet app, such as QuickOffice, a suite of office and productivity apps for tablets and smartphones.
Price: A free version can sync up to two computers and mobile devices, with up to 2 GB of storage. Business editions have custom pricing, requiring a quote.
Who should use it: Syncplicity is one way for a cloud-enabled startup to add an extra layer of options for monitoring and managing cloud storage. Cloud-intensive businesses should appreciate the ability to connect a variety of disparate apps.
Campbell, Calif.-based Soonr takes a fresh, workflow-based approach to storage. It sorts files into projects and allow admins to define users into groups and subgroups with different levels of access to these files.
Advantages: Soonr distinguishes between users inside and outside your organization. It also enables users to print files remotely or send faxes.
Disadvantages: There are no options for real-time collaboration or online editing, meaning this is strictly a file storage and sharing solution.
Price: Soonr starts at $10 per month for three company users and two outside users, with 25 GB of storage. That can be expanded to 20 users or more and 1 TB or more of storage, starting at $399 per month.
Who should use it: Soonr can be useful for businesses that work with many outside vendors and contractors and want more direct access to their exchanged files.